Writer Ralph Kramer grew up on an Indiana farm and saw his first Indianapolis 500 in 1950. In the blog below, Ralph share what the experience of digging through Indy 500 history to create a book was like. Kramer’s books include The Indianapolis Motor Speedway: A 100 Years of Racing and The Indianapolis 500: A Century of Excitement.
The pictures tell the story, upwards of 3 million of them carefully tucked in a vault-like second-floor suite in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s Hall of Fame Museum: They are the DNA of 100 years of the Indianapolis 500, and more.
What I learned in months and months of studying the ancient prints, negatives and digital images for two books commemorating the Speedway’s centenary was that there is always more to a story. The archived images proved to be little windows, allowing light on the Speedway’s past. But the light did not always provide a clear picture.
A century ago, what really drove Carl Fisher? And what about his wife Jane? Was she really just 15 when he married her? Or 25, as some say.
We know Barney Oldfield didn’t compete in the first Indianapolis 500 because he had his AAA racing license suspended, but what really kept Louis Chevrolet out of field?
Why were Indy’s official starters through the years such flamboyant dressers? Why was maestro Harry Miller, whose machinery dominated Indy for much of the 1920s, always wearing a hat? And what’s with Mauri Rose’s ever-present pipe?
Louie Meyer’s mom made sure he had buttermilk to drink after he won the 1936 race. A top gun at the American Milk Foundation who knew opportunity when it was knocking saw the picture, and an Indy tradition was born. But what about Louie’s mom? Was she at the race? Not even my friend and Speedway historian Donald Davidson, whose recall of all things Indy is phenomenal, can say yes or no.
There are gaps in the Speedway’s pictorial history. For many years the job was hired out to different photographers whose work is not in the track’s possession. But still, to open a 100-year-old album and place a magnifying glass on the really old stuff in the museum vault is to experience a run of goose-bump moments.
In short, it’s like I was a kid again, listening from a tractor seat to radio’s Sid Collins calling Bill Vukovich’s 1954 win or the late great Speedway chief announcer Tom Carnegie painting brilliant word pictures of the epic lap-after-lap 1960 Rathmann-Ward battle for the checkered flag.
Fans can enter for a chance to win a copy of the Slip Case Edition of Kramer’s book, The Indianapolis Motor Speedway: A Century of Excitement as well as tickets to the Indianapolis 500, Brickyard 400, and other great Indianapolis Motor Speedway items. Find out more and enter to win by visiting the Old Cars Weekly 100th Anniversary Sweepstakes by May 5, 2011.